my favourite christmas gifts and what they tell you about grief

This post may seem a bit delayed, but better late than never… Some say. If they don’t find lateness really rude.

My Christmas was lovely overall but in some ways it passed in a blur as if I wasn’t really present. It’s as if in order to cope with something like grief you have to suspend reality to an extent. Almost feeling illusory, floating through the day with all memories of recent times more intangible than ever.

I have wanted to do a post about my stand-out Christmas gifts but just taken a few weeks to get around to it. I got a lot of wonderful things… A coffee machine, a digital radio, a swish leather strap for my DSLR, a beautiful notebook and parker pen – to name a few.

But, there are some specifics I have chosen to pick out and I was reflecting on them realising how my current state of living with grief has had a significant impact on how I view anything and everything. So, here’s what my stand-out gifts are and what they reveal about grief:

  1. Experiences

Nothing reveals the importance of people over stuff more than loss. We can get so bogged down in the accumulation, maintenance and fleeting enjoyment of stuff that connecting with people and experiencing life and all it has to offer becomes sidelined. Losing someone gives you that cold-shower reality hit of your mortality. And very importantly, of everyone else’s too. Life, in its unpredictable frailness, finds its true beauty in relationship and communal experience of what the world has to offer. Even the pain it offers up can create beauty when those around us rally with us against it.

For Christmas we decided with our friends that we would go on a day out together instead of buy gifts. We went to Drusillas one Saturday in December and it was a great day and we really enjoyed spending the time with them. It was also good because every year we are faced with that familiar issue of the kids being overwhelmed with ‘stuff’ and we want them to grow up appreciating connection with people over material possessions so hopefully they never have need to regret having preferred the latter over the former. So, this was a good way of putting across that message and it felt especially important this year. A close family member’s gift to us was that we would all go away together for a long weekend (including my siblings and their families). This will be a special time together that otherwise we probably wouldn’t get around to organising something like this, and I can’t wait for it. My third and final experience present was tickets to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time west end play, from my husband. You may have noticed it is one of my ’30 Things’ and we went a couple of weeks ago. I was able to check off another 30 Thing when we went for lunch before and I had lobster! ‘Just do it’ has become a bit of a mantra for me and I can see myself wanting to embrace opportunities and experiences with a fearlessness that I never had before. If you are itching to see that show, or go to this place, or that place… Well, what are you waiting for? There may be a good reason, like saving up pennies. Or there may be no reason at all.

2.   A hat

My Dad’s fiancé bought me a wooly bobble hat. It’s no ordinary bobble hat. It’s black with neon colours weaved through it – pink, green, orange etc. I opened it and thought… Hmm., this is a bit wacky but perhaps I could see myself wearing it… I looked up at her and she said, “I had to”.

Then I remembered. On came the tidal wave and suddenly I’m crying. I hadn’t cried yet whilst at my dad’s, waking up on Christmas morning without him there… Until the hat. Why?

When we were kids my mum did the present-buying mostly but one year my Dad decided to choose us something entirely by himself. For my sister and I he chose hats. They were pretty terrible. My sister’s was a hilarious bobble hat that clung to her head rather tightly and had ties dangling down the side. My hat looked like something from the costume department of Oliver. He took our disapproval very well and it became a bit of a running joke.

Suddenly, I would definitely wear this neon hat. It was perfect. It was a reminder and I wouldn’t care what I looked like in it. As I’ve expressed many times, I care much less about what people think and I think there are deep, multiple and unexplainable reasons for why. This hat gives some insight: what it represented would be more important than how it looked. My dad always described me and my taste and style as being ‘quirky’. It is definitely a quirky hat and makes me think, not only of this happy memory of his hat-buying but also an aspect of myself that he enjoyed and therefore I want to embrace.


The hat experience also hit it home again how rife denial is in my current existence. I was chatting to a friend about this the other day. She has recently lost her dad and we were marvelling at this strange phenomenon of knowing something to be reality but yet, to some extent, living as though it isn’t. We both agreed we were grateful for it and it was hard to explain.

I don’t spend my days pretending dad is at home or at work doing his usual stuff. But somehow, my subconscious disconnects me from the pain as if it doesn’t exist. Otherwise I can readily believe I would buckle under the weight of it. Even now, nearly ten months on. Yesterday, I found myself briefly in tears having looked at a photo of my Dad and allowing my imagination to engage with thinking about him and how wonderful he was. It’s a photo that has been sitting on my mantlepiece since he died but I don’t often focus in on it. In it he is standing at a BBQ, he loved cooking and socialising, he was giving a scrunched up partial-grin like he often did for photos, he is wearing an apron but probably still managed to get a splash of something on his t-shirt…

But oh, too much pain. Switch it off again. Where was I? Oh yes, picking up toys from the floor and deciding what to cook tomorrow…

3. A mustard yellow backpack

Ok, the colour doesn’t really have much bearing. The reason I asked for was unexpectedly gifted this backpack was because I had started carrying around one or two books and one or two notebooks everywhere I went. It was starting to hurt my shoulder and back carrying them in a shoulder bag and I also wanted a bag I could transport a laptop in safely. This was different. A new passion had emerged.

Grief often inspires change and so many different aspects of life can be affected. Who you are, what’s important and most interestingly, what you dream about achieving.

Sometimes they will be completely new things that resonate with life as it was but still feel completely bolt out of the blue… “I never imagined I would ever want to do that”. But, now you do and not only do you want to do it, you are doing it because, life is short.

And don’t you know it.



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